Friday, 11 May 2018

Helensburgh 10k

As I dragged my sorry torso, slapping spider arms and spindly legs around the final corner into Hermitage Academy, my eyes fell on the race clock in its understated grey box perched next to the finishing banners and blue and white blow up arch. The first two numbers were ‘38’. As my lungs continued to blow like an engine on empty, a pair of bellows with a hole in the middle,  my eyes continued to move right to see another two numbers. They said ‘38’ as well….but the second set of numbers kept moving….39….40…. I was nearly at the line but had to dig deep. Desperate measures. Run, Forest. Crossing in 38:41 I fell forward and gasped in lungful's of air. I wiped the sweat off my head and nose. That was tougher than it should have been.

On reflection, I was really pleased with my run, all things considered. My technique had crumpled somewhere around the 5k mark, as I peered at my garmin. Running along Argyle Street the roads were on ‘soft close’, the occasional car creeping along between runners. We were in the middle of the road. The cherry blossoms that lined the unlikely boulevard were, in any other circumstances, beautiful.  I had no time to appreciate their feminine beauty. I was on a mission.

I have family in Helensburgh and used an excuse of a visit to justify an entry and overnight stay for the first of the Babcocks Series's 10k’s.  The new school, with all its bells and whistles, was the race HQ and there was plenty of space to park and toilets for all. The youngster appeared from Raintown to offer support, but was miffed that the tea, coffee and cake stall wasn’t opening until after the race….think they missed a trick there.   

I had a thick throat, but otherwise was buoyed up by my new mantra of self-management in terms of my weekly training and racing.  You have to have the right mindset before races. I am mainly my own coach now, although I still like nipping down to the club when I can. I keep it varied. I have had a couple of good races in recent months, albeit that they are short and relays. A 10k is a step up in distance.

The first mile was a six minute affair with a drag up through a housing estate before a steady drop onto the mean streets of drizzle town. There was quite a bit of support out for the local Dumbarton and Helensburgh runners, and I fell in between 2 girls, one of which was running for the prison service, the other was wearing a yellow top.  They both looked strong. Both had good technique and every time someone else passed me, I latched onto their stride, their heels, anything. I tried to copy them to get me through another kilometre.  The periodic barks from the marshalls was like something from Poltergiest….’keep to the left….don’t look at the light, child….’.

A wee dog on a lead had a go at me as I mounted the pavement at 7k and the shock gave me a little adrenaline jolt but it wasn’t enough and I eventually lost touch of the two girls in the last 2 km; However I clocked in 67th and 4th vet (O50) and delivered a ‘well below my target sub40’. I also won a spot prize - I found a great tome of ‘100 years of Shettleston Harriers’ along with my Tunnocks log (not a metaphor) in my medal bag. Not sure if I also got a pair of socks or not.  The youngster flicked through it, raised her eyebrows and said ‘its all men and there aren’t even any colour photos in it; typical.'

This serious racing stuff is punishing and if undertaken, has to be approached with both caution, respect and commitment.  Either way, it’s the best 10k result for me since Dumbarton in 2016 when I was a lot lighter. Next up, the Black Rock 5. All aboard.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Elswick and NEMAA Relays

The need to blog has been bouncing around the bottom in recent weeks, but I've been tipped over the edge by a mixed metaphor and last nights late spring performance.
It was the North East Masters Relays. Lots of old folk trying to relive past glories. Evocative of a wrinkled Chariots of Fire where we're all white vests, awkward baggy flapping shorts and the Greek keyboard king giving it large in the wings on his stylophone (I imagine).
I had no intention of running this. It wasn't on my radar. I was busy doing other things in my mission impossible control centre. God, its dark in there.  All buzzing, clicks and L.E.D screens. Dangling from that rope all day really takes it out of you.

A weekend in London at the marathon watching the daughters gently frying to a brown crisp over 26 miles was enough for me to mooch backwards discreetly from competition. I had just got rid of my 3rd cold of the year, which is just ridiculous. I wonder if I am someone's experiment and they just haven't got round to telling me.

I was contacted last week and asked to run in the crack over 45's 'B' team. Considering I am a month off a decade older, I was both sanguine and flattered by the request (obviously of a desperate man). Being the reliable Johnny that I am, I confirmed my availability in the soon to be forgotten 3 man team.   By the end of the week, however, I had received an upgrade to the 'A' team after the withdrawal of Rob H pulling up at training with a recurrence of the hamstring thing. Not everyone had been taking it easy, it seems.

Happy with my sub 13 minute relay stint at the Easter Elswick Relays and a nearly sub-19 minute Parkrun in Southwick, I am in good shape. Don't count your chicklets, however. Work is doing its best to thwart my sterling efforts (thwart...there's a word you don't hear ever...what you call a person who tries to thwart you?... a thwart hog).  But I've now reached capacity and not taking any more work, I can find time to breath and blog and other things beginning with the letter B.

The NEMAA relays comprises three legs each 3k long (about 1.9mile) and twice round the Campbell Park in Monkton, south of the Tyne.  I arrived in the sun in good time and secured pole position starting first. Around 30 or 40 set off and I cracked around the first lap. I settled down toward the end of the lap and took shelter where I could where the park road was exposed. I even recall telling myself I was feeling pretty good, but that errant thought was parked soon after when I began to tire. The 5:55 first mile was not reproduced in the second lap and it was down to around 6:11 at the end.  I jogged around for a couple of laps afterwards and took some snaps. Not sure where we finished, but I thought I made some sort of contribution. In self-recognition it was chips at Wallsend afterwards, much more digestible than a medal. On the way back my thoughts turned to maybe re-joining the masters association so that I can run some track events in June and later summer. Before then there's the Black Rock and I am toying with the Helensburgh 10k next week. mmmm...maybe!

Monday, 26 March 2018

Aberfoyle Spring Week

After making light work of the Loch Katrine Marathon (see previous blog; wink, wink, say no more), we had a wind-down week in a wee cottage in Aberfoyle. It was 2012 since I previously put my feet up thereabouts, although I did ride the Tour De Trossachs there last October. The weather had, thankfully, improved and we didn't see a repeat of the bitter conditions witnessed on the previous Sunday.

Every day, I ran up through the gravel tree lined trails around the David Marshall Lodge, halfway up the Dukes Pass. Some days I went off-piste and got lost in the wooded kingdom. The runs were usually followed by a eggy based brunch. Not a big mileage week, but I was clocking around 1000ft of quality ascent every day and gulping in the stunning scenery together with bucket loads of fresh air.  Mrs Mac spent her time recovering from her 6 hour Katrine shuffle and read for much of the Week.

Spring, mild and wet weather arrived by the end of the week when the frogs were everywhere doing what they do at this time of  the year in the woodland ponds. Have they got no shame? On the bird front, they were pretty shy, but we caught sight of a Goldeneye in Loch Achray and a Goosander at the Lake of Menteith hotel where the venison burger proved too strong for me. Earlier, late on the Friday afternoon after the rain stopped, I came down like a sack of tatties on a slippy bend, but got up quickly in case someone was watching and having a wee laugh at my expense, a wee bitty schadenfreude up the Dukes Pass. Anybody had a wee bitty schadenfreude up the Dukes Pass...anyone...anyone...Bueller?

Saturday saw us pack up and clear off home via Glasgow. The sun was splitting the pavements (really), so we felt compelled to visit Victoria Park in Whiteinch where my granny used to live (not in the park) for the Park Run. Around 270 converged on the crocus laden grounds. The pond was busy with various swans and ducks.

I soon fell into step behind a high stepping female, an unattached Louise Dytch, after the first lap when the field began to thin out. We threaded our way around another 2 laps and I lagged a couple of seconds to her with 100 to go, but crossing the line in 18:48, I was pretty pleased to go sub 19 for ages. Checking the results, it looked like a big PB for her also. It was, I suppose, a perfect day for a Park run and the course is pretty flat.

We warmed down afterwards, meeting up with Speedy Joe for a salad and chips at the Hyndland Fox, a little bit of bohemia among the red brown sandstone tenements. Very nice. Very civilsed.

This week I'll be back in the gym, the first time for ages. I am enjoying the running and trying to ensure I manage myself to stay injury free. This, seemingly, involves trying no to over-do the interval stuff, being sensible with the long runs and rationing the races. That said, its the Elswick Relays in Newburn this Friday, so better not take my foot off the gas yet. I'll be in a new age category in June and was reminded by a running buddy that I should be aiming to make an impact.  Always happy to oblige! 

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Loch Katrine Running Festival

I entered the Loch Katrine marathon in January after finding out there were no more places for the half marathon. Mrs Mac also put her name down. Aunt Aggie would have, but there were no crayons to hand.
I have trained very reasonably for the event over the last 2 months, managing myself and trying to ensure there were no heroics that led to injury, with a capital R.

Having heard this weekend’s forecast, however, I was resigned to the event being cancelled.  We travelled up regardless, on Saturday morning after Mrs Mac’s nightshift. The dark destroyer was in tow after her storming 3:04 and first British woman at Barcelona. We then collected Speedy Joe in Glasgow. She’s claiming injury and has been taking it easy after a full-on XC season. Although neither were racing, I was in good company.  They are both doing London.
After setting up camp in Aberfoyle, we ate big on the Saturday night. We woke this morning to snow. Around an inch all told. Strangely, the Facebook page for the event still appeared to be showing no change; The Alloa half was cancelled together with a handful of other races. ‘Surely it couldn’t be still on’, we asked ourselves.  

We piled our gear into the car and set off avoiding the Dukes Pass and drove via Callender. The event HQ was up and running at 8:30am when we arrived having picked our way through the snowy lanes of Kilmahog. Everything was green for go, even though everything was actually white with snow. There was a good inch of fresh powdery snow on the road along the loch.
With a wind chill of around minus 8, there was, not for the first time, much discussion about the choice of footwear and how many layers to wear.  About 60 runners set off for the marathon including me and Missus mac. I had checked with the organisers beforehand that, in the event of me getting too cold and copping out, I could cut the event short and do the half, 13 miles, rather than the 26.  Fine, they said. No problem.
I had opted for the Salomons on snowy tarmac, but was fairly sure I definitely didn’t want to run 26 miles on tarmac in them. The soles of my Nike Lunars, however, were as flat as the UK economy and useless for snow running. 
Running for the first few miles with a huge tailwind blowing me west, I overheated badly. I was sitting around 5th or 6th just after mile 6, when I spied the turnaround marker for the half marathon and as soon as you could say ‘that’ll do nicely’ I had implemented a swift no-nonsense volte-face and was soon heading back into the wind and snow flurries. As I ran on my own along the single track that wound its way through the woods all I could think of was '....good weather for the judderman'. Long slender icicles on the rocks. snow flurries. Occasional ravens, cawing. desolate. Beware the judderman, my dear, when the moon is fat. ......I was woken out of my hypothermic stupor by the half marathon and 10k runners who had set off half an hour later than the marathon runners. A small stampede of folk coming at me from all angles. I got plenty of ‘well dones’. ‘What on earth do people think I’ve achieved’ I wondered; the only runner from the marathon group to bail out and retreat like Napoleon being chased by the Cossacks.
I arrived back at HQ in 1:34 which was perfectly fine and explained myself to the perplexed marshalls. They recorded the time and I got a hat, medal and tea-cake. The 2 young athletes had a good jog around the place and we enjoyed a lunch of hot soup at the pier café. Mrs Mac returned some good while later and we had a good chat about this low key but very popular event in the Forth Inn after a wash and warm up.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Big Freeze

Everything has ground to a halt. The town is like a ghost town.
Not a Special in sight.

I was a little sceptical at the weekend about the forecasts of doom regarding the weather we were to expect during the week. However, for once, they've been right on the money.

It was already freezing cold on Saturday evening.  I know that because Virgin invited us off the warm train at Alnmouth. We had to alight in order to catch a connection. It was 8pm. We had been up Edinburgh getting some scrambled egg at the City Café and some culture at the Lyceum. A treat. It was no treat when we found out that the station was closed. Dark. Brooding. Polar. Ice Station Zebra without Rock Hudson. Six of us were stranded without sanctuary and without fur lined parkas; banished to hide away in alcoves, competing with the pigeons. Crouching behind cars to keep out of the penetrating and biting wind. I half expected to see John Carpenters 'The Thing' scuttle from under a vehicle. 'That'll teach me to go and see Jacobean Theatre' I mused. In the olden days, I imagine we would have waited, sitting by a real fire on chairs of green velvet, tired upholstery. The bespectacled, grey haired station-master would have offered us tea in china cups and a rich tea, maybe some shortie.  I can just see Will Hay and his side-kick fussing round us.

Anyway, I digress. Sunday was fine. But the snow arrived right on schedule two nights ago and it hasn't stopped since. Aunt Aggies been out 'trapping' and insists on hanging her wet furs over the radiator. She came back late last night with two kinder eggs.  She said they were free range.

Yesterday at lunchtime, I slid my feet into plastic bags and strapped on the Salomons. I was chomping at the bit for a run in the snow and had a stop-start run with the camera through the woods at lunchtime between the snow showers (although, I realise, that I said earlier that it hadn't stopped...cut me some slack). The sun came out and I had a wee sweat on tramping through the fresh scrunchy snow. Beautiful.  That Panasonic weighs a tonne though.

However, this mornings meteorological offerings were rather more hostile. I stood at the window and shook my head a few times for a good hour before Aunt Aggie finally let me in. Seriously, I was geared up and out the door into blizzard conditions for 5 miles, first thing. The traffic was sparse and crawling. Several drivers gave me a thumbs up for sheer stupidity.

I've spent the rest of the day watching the snow creep higher and higher up the steps. I was back out again tonight for an hour as the light failed and another dark icy night blew in from east. Mrs Mac is stranded at work and covering for others tonight.

I have postponed both the appointments I had tomorrow, but the forecast for next week is still pants. On the plus side, however, I feel another snowy run coming on in the morning assuming I can physically get out the door. Much as the draw of the snow is irresistible, the mid-range forecast is not good at all and I feel the need to stock up on kindling, cous cous and grapefruits, currently my food fads; obviously not the kindling. I've noticed my appetite mushrooms when the snow arrives.

All the races including the cross country have been cancelled this weekend. So it'll be me, Phillip K. Dick's 'Man in the High Castle' and my copy of Steven Wilsons CD 'To The Bone' which is fab and the sort of music you buy and just stick on repeat play; just like old times.  I might even watch a Will Hay film, maybe 'Oh Mr Porter'. Can you believe that was made in 1937?!         

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

'The Time Machine'

I hatched a plan on Monday night after failing to summon up the energy or application to get a Monday run in during the day.

I would do double the distance on Tuesday. But how would I avoid ducking out? I would accompany Missus Mac on the six thirty dawn bus to Newcastle and run back home. I felt fine after my 15 miles on Sunday and I've clocked out a steady 50 mile week for the last month. Another 14 today would be good.

There’s not a big field in the Loch Katrine Marathon. It’s in March and only for charity, probably not even a measured course; but I would like to drop in a sub 3:20 if possible. Evidently, the weather will have a big influence but I reckon that, given that I have been injury and niggle free for a couple of months now, it’s not too ambitious a plan.  As I watched the news this morning, I realised that a southerly wind was forecast with snow on the way. I stepped out the door in the dark. It was two degrees. brrr.

When the bus arrived, I committed; I made the £5 investment and bought the ticket. Contactless. We live in changing times. We were off.

Missus Mac got off at her stop and I was left to watch the red and purple hues of the dawn horizon take on a brighter but greyer look. The cars kept coming; all those on their daily pilgrimage to ‘the office’. I thought computers and the internet were supposed to do away with the rush hour. 

Getting off the bus in Central Newcastle, I took a leaf out of the strategy of fellow bloggers and went for a coffee. It was a two pound small Americano. By 7:45 I was fizzing. I plugged in the orchestral earplugs, zipped up the bum bag and took off along the pavement from the café at Eldon Gardens and got into my stride. It was cold and grey. But I was immediately aware of a big, blousy southerly behind me and blowing me along. I was running north. 15 minutes later, as I ran through the deserted Exhibition Park, the home of the 'Toons weekly Parkrun, the moor-hens and mallards were picking through the ice in the pond. They looked bored already.  They were in for another bleak day.

I was welcomed into Gosforth along the Great North Road by Simple Minds and I was aware I was getting a bit ahead of myself, but the tailwind was irresistible.  Mark Knofler was invoking the memory of Elvis through the High Street and by North Seaton, 40 minutes and 6 miles into my run, I was cooking. I stopped to dispense with the wind jacket.  By Wideopen (8 miles) the wind had dropped and the weather front moved in, dusting the wet road with a carnival of sleety flakes and then cold, steely rain. Stannington came and went, a few crisp brown leaves and the clouds of my exhaled breath preceding me and confirming that I still had a tailwind. But I was fading at 11 miles and, given that there was nothing riding on the morning’s efforts, I stopped by the A1 and fished out a green gel. Yummy! The viscous and sickly fluid vaguely resembled apple something and I drained the pallid liquor. Two miles to go. Grace came on the ipod and I was slave to the rhythm for the next mile. How come they can fit in a stadium sound into a piece of metal the size of a box of matches? My running had become ragged and I was tired, but I was home by 9:30am.

Galvanised by my efforts, I spent the next few hours tidying the house in preparation for the arrival of the plumber. Royalty. An air lock somewhere in the system resulting in a cold bedroom and bathroom. When I come back next time, some-one remind me to sign up for plumbing. 'Name your price' stuff.

Aunt Aggie checked herself out of her care home last week and is back in the potting shed, knitting doilies. She doesn’t like 'being with the old folk' she says. 'Its dull watching the birds' she says. Who can blame her? But life is moving on. Time just keeps passing. She says unless you're Rod Taylor, you can’t slow time. So, instead, you need to do memorable stuff; stuff like today. I’m inclined to agree with the wizened but loveable old bat. I shared a pot of tea with her. I told her about my next 'point to point' test before Loch Katrine. I have an idea to do 'Consett to Newcastle' along the old wagonway; It’s all downhill. Nice Plan. She just nodded and said ‘amaideach'. That care home has a lot to answer for. She couldn't speak the gaelic before she went. But that's St Kilda for you.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Devils Burden: Lost in the Woods

I arrived at 10am in Falkland and stalked around the Fife village looking for a parking space. The first priority is to find a suitable slot, a spot that doesn’t leave your rear end poking out into the street or impinge on some grumpy residents drive. I drove down the south end and found a space outside a weary looking semi. With some curtains still closed and the residents, no doubt, still cosy in bed, I grabbed my woolly hat and donned my 'silver' Salomons. They are described as silver in the adverts, but have always looked grey and abit on the drab side in my eyes. They are looking decidedly dog-eared now. I stole out of the estate and jogged down to the Hall. It was busy, but not overly so. In the backroom of the hall a few buddies were sat buttering the largest pile of deformed morning rolls I had ever witnessed.  The huge vats of soup couldn’t be far away.

Some weeks previously, I gleaned that the Hawks were struggling for runners to make up teams for the Devils Burdens Relays and I threw my woolly hat into the ring. This event is the January season club-opener in the hill running calendar.  A tasty come as you please event for teams of six runners.  The weather is always a factor and, today, there was a gloomy blanket of murk around the hills. Squally.  

There are two solo legs and two legs for pairs. It attracts most clubs in Scotland. This year there were 150 teams. That’s 600 athletes on a Saturday morning converging on a village with little in the way of transport links.  Plenty cars. There are two waves at the start; the oldies, some female and some mixed teams go first at 9:20am: then the younger faster striplings set off at 10:30am.

The Hawks ‘A’ squad (‘A’ in the loosest sense) had set off at 9:20am and were in the Over 40’s category. I was running the last leg. Eager as I was I wandered around the hall looking for a silver bag which had my number in it and after the 3rd revolution and staring at various chair legs, I found it, to my relief.  I pinned the number on and, pulling my beanie over my forehead, left the hall and jogged through the town to the woods where the start of leg 4 was.

It had been suggested that my leg 3 duo would be coming by at around 11-11:30am. I jogged up on a woodland track through Maspie Den. Other than a few dog walkers there was no one around. Not an ounce of lycra, not a studmark or whiff of wintergreen. I continued up the track. As I came out of the trees, I was passed by a young bloke. A quick conversation confirmed that he was on leg 4 as well. I jogged a mile with him and was nearly dropped in the process. As he began to move ahead I tried to clarify if the start was up where we were jogging to; ‘No’ he said, ‘its back down there through the woods’ gesticulating with his thumb over his shoulder. I then realised he was a leg 4 runner from the second wave and was out doing some reconnaissance.  

I high tailed it back down to the start and still there was no-one there. No voices, no red tape. Nought. By this time my garmin read ‘4 miles’. I had a sweat on. This was no good at all. Not being able to determine the starting point for an event that involves, to some degree, map reading skills, was less than convincing.

I phoned Dave H. He was back in the hall after running leg 1. He suggested he might have been a bit off with the times and thought 12-12:30pm was a bit more realistic. He advocated a return to the hall. I duly ran back and chatted for 20 minutes before returning to the start, by which time some officials and a handful of leg 4 shufflers were congregating. I chatted with a couple of Falkland Trail runners who suggested that the Hawks were ‘well up’. I hoped not. Didn’t fancy the pressure. However, it was nearer 12:40pm when the lads rounded the trees and I got my hands on the cardboard control punchcard needed for the last 3 checkpoints. 

My 5.5km route with 400m of ascent would take me up one side of East Lomond and straight back down the other side.  I had kept my orange wind jacket on as I ran. It was very mild for January, but the jacket is thin and I thought there might be a wind chill up on top. I passed a woman runner quickly and then ate up a Westerland runner as we came up to my first checkpoint. This is always good for morale.  The sweat driven, rain soaked exertions of my  team-mates had resulted in the erasure of most of the checkpoint  numbers on the card. It was beginning to resemble a soggy papier-mache affair. It was pot luck which square I clicked.

I left the shelter of the trees and caught a 3rd runner half way up East Lomond. I thanked my stars I had my jacket on as a burly, rugged westerly blew me up the steep slope. However, at the top I could see the Trig point but no flag with the punch.  There were no marshalls present. I struggled to remain standing. Bent hard into the wind, I looked around the top for the checkpoint. Chris Russell, running for the Las Vegas Club (the fife branch) appeared about 20 seconds later and went straight to a shallow hollow below the Trig point and was off like a shot. Realising where it was, I punched my card and took off after him. The steep descent took 12 minutes, 2 minutes longer than the ascent as we combated deep tussocky grass and moss. As we descended the wind rescinded and I reached him on the lower slopes just as the first runner from the 2nd Wave, a Westerlands runner, screeched past, bee-lining for the last checkpoint. Momentarily, I was right up with Russell, but the Vegas runner had other ideas along the final half mile of track that led back to Falkland and he put a good few seconds into me as I felt the residue of the ghost of Christmas Pasta weighing heavily on my normally mercurial quads and calves; but before you could say ‘calorie controlled diet’ , I turned the corner and there, in front of me, was the finish line. Just a touch under 37 minutes, but a better descent and less gormless wandering at the top of the hill might have got us an extra place. Next time, eh?